News Stories

White Christmas

A white Christmas is only a memory in most of the United States, according to Dale Kaiser and Kevin Birdwell, of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Looking at the snowfall in16 cities?mainly in the north?since 1960, the number of white Christmases per decade declined from 78 during the 1960s to 39 in the 1990s.People in Chicago, for example, saw the number of white Christmases, defined as at least one inch of snow on the ground, drop from seven in the 1960s to two during the 1990s. In New York, the number declined from five in the 1960s to one this past decade, and Detroit had just three white Christmases in the 1990s versus nine in the 1960s.

But in several cities, the number of white Christmases has been fairly constant. Looking at the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, Tahoe City, California, had eight, seven, eight and nine white Christmases, respectively. Salt Lake City?s number of white Christmases per decade were seven, seven, eight and eight. Minneapolis/St. Paul had eight white Christmases in the 1960s, seven in each of the following two decades and eight in the 1990s.

In Tennessee, Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville/Oak Ridge had several white Christmases in the 1960s?three in Memphis, two in Nashville and four in Knoxville/Oak Ridge?but none in the 1980s or 1990s. Atlanta hasn?t had a white Christmas since the record-keeping process began in 1896.

The following metropolitan areas were used in the study (the number of white Christmases for each of the last four decades are in parentheses): Seattle (2, 0, 0, 0)Tahoe City, California (8, 7, 8, 9)Salt Lake City (7, 7, 8, 8)Denver (4, 4, 7, 2)Minneapolis/St. Paul (8, 7, 7, 8)Kansas City, Mo. (4, 0, 6, 2)Chicago (7, 5, 4, 2)Detroit (9, 7, 5, 3)Cincinnati (3, 0, 2, 2)Boston (8, 5, 5, 2)New York City (5, 1, 1, 1)Washington, D.C. (4, 0, 0, 0)Memphis (3, 0, 0, 0)Nashville (2, 0, 0, 0)Knoxville/Oak Ridge (4, 1, 0, 0)Atlanta (0, 0, 0, 0)

For many cities, the weather is actually recorded at a suburban station several miles away. For example, the weather for Washington, D.C., is actually recorded at Glen Dale, Maryland. Since it?s usually colder outside the city limits, this means the city itself is actually less likely to have snow on the ground than the statistics say.

Bob Cushman, of the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, says we shouldn?t read too much into this analysis and says, ?After all, we?re only looking at one aspect of weather on one specific day each year. Whether there is snow on the ground on December 25 may or may not relate to the larger issue of whether the U.S., or any region in the country, is experiencing an overall warming trend.?

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